Gallstones | Diagnosis & Treatment

How are gallstones diagnosed?

If your child’s doctor suspects gallstones, they will typically order an ultrasound test. Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the internal organs. They are painless and do not expose your child to radiation.

 How are gallstones treated?

If your child has gallstones but no symptoms such as pain or vomiting, they may not need treatment. Pay attention and be ready to bring your child to the doctor if they develop symptoms later.

If your child has symptomatic gallstones, the only effective treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder. Your child’s doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery or a procedure called ERCP. These are both minimally invasive procedures.

For a laparoscopy, small incisions are made on the child's abdomen. A telescope is passed through one of these openings to observe the operation as it is performed with instruments placed through the other openings.

For an ERCP, the doctor guides a long, thin, flexible tube equipped with LED lights and a tiny video camera into the child’s mouth, down to the upper digestive system. The doctor then slides a tool down the tube and uses it to remove the gallbladder.

Both of these procedures require general anesthesia and, typically, an overnight stay at the hospital to be monitored. Both procedures cause considerably less pain and scarring than traditional open surgery.

In rare cases, an "open" procedure through an incision below the ribs may be necessary. This may be required if there is scarring, inflammation, bleeding or unusual anatomy of the common bile duct which prevents safe performance of the laparoscopy.